The other day I exclaimed over a large bag of hand-me-down plastic containers from my mother, “This is amazing! Oh, wow! It’s like Christmas!”
“Actually, it IS Christmas,” said Carrie dryly.
“Can you wrap that for me?” asked the lady.
“Actually, we don’t gift wrap,” I said.
“You don’t gift wrap?”
“No, sorry. But I can give you a box and some extra tissue paper.”
“That would be fine!” she said. “Oh, is the box unassembled? Would you mind just putting the box together for me? I’ll never figure it out.”
“Here’s an instruction manual that tells you how,” I said. “It’s quite simple.”
“Would you mind?”
“Not at all. There you are.”
“Oh, lovely! Now could you just put the glasses inside the box. I don’t want them to break on the way home. Oh, take the price tags off before you wrap them, would you? I always forget. Thank you, dear. And put the extra tissue paper right in the box with them. Like that. Lovely. Now, do you have any ribbon?”
“Of course, here’s one of our ribbon packets. Have a happy—”
“Wonderful, I’ll take it! Just tie it around the box.”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t gift wrap.”
“Oh, no no. I don’t want you to wrap it, darling. It’s already wrapped. I just need help with ribbon.”
Tally of Christmas Presents (in no particular order)
#1 being called by my name
It’s apparently a hard one to say. Because of this, until recently, my niece Sophia referred to me as “Auntie Enemy.” Purely coincidently, for a while she was also calling my sis-in-law, Melissa, “Auntie Messiah.” This became particularly humorous when would play tag games and she would run from me to Melissa yelling, “Messiah! Help, help Messiah! Enemy is after me!” Although she’s been calling Melissa “Missa” for a while now, the name “Enemy” (by some encouragement from David) stuck. It was not until two days before Christmas that I asked Sophia what my name was and she responded:
“Eni . . . Eminy . . . Em . . . Aa . . . Em . . . Aa . . . Leee!!”
At a Christmas celebration with my immediate family Abe and Melissa handed out gifts, each accompanied by by a long note written by one of them—heartfelt and meaningful on Melissa’s part, and of a more humorous nature on Abe’s. They were too funny for me to even attempt to recount here, but they had my whole family in stitches and, believe me, we’re a tough crowd. I do wish I could share that moment with you. I’m still glad I was able to share it with them.
#4 new family members
Not just the little ones. Since last year I’ve acquired both a sister and a cousin. And, although Melissa has been more of an immediate blessing (understatement of the year), this recent rash of holidays has shown Kevin to be, arguably, the best maker of green bean casserole on the face of the planet.
Joy to the world, indeed.
A baby at Christmas, the feeble flesh, her fragile soul, serves to remind me that my savior wasn’t born a porcelain, haloed infant, to remind me of the sheer, devastating audacity of a holiday with such a premise. In his essay, “The Face in the Sky,” Fredrick Buechner writes of the Incarnation:
For the moment itself, say, of Christmas, there can only be silence as something comes to life, some spirit, some hope; as something is born again into the world that is so strange and new and precious that not even a cynic can laugh although he might be tempted to weep . . . Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of man. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too. And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully.For those who believe in God, it means, this birth, that God himself is never safe from us, and maybe that is the dark side of Christmas, the terror of the silence. He comes in such a way that we can always turn him down, as we could crack the baby’s skull like an eggshell or nail him up when he gets too big for that. God comes to us in the hungry man we do not have to feed, comes to us in the lonely man we do not have to comfort, comes to us in all the desperate human need of people everywhere that we are always free to turn our backs upon. It means that God puts himself at our mercy not only in the sense of the suffering that we can cause him by our blindness and coldness and cruelty, but the suffering that we can cause him simply by suffering ourselves. Because that is the way love works, and when someone we love suffers, we suffer with him, and we would not have it otherwise because the suffering and the love are one, just as it is with God’s love for us.The child is born in the night—the mother’s exhausted flesh, the father’s face clenched like a fist—and nothing is ever the same again.
“Auntie Eminee?” said Sophia. “I love you!”
“I love you!” I said.
“Too!” she said.